Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Road to Sustainability

I've been slacking a little with this blog lately. But I've been busy, working my butt off trying to find myself a job, and not just any job but the job. The job where I get to use my writing and editing skills daily. The job where there's room for me to learn and grow and advance my career. The job with a positive working environment. I'm still looking. But I might be getting close! I've had two phone interviews for one position and I will be interviewing in-person for that position next week. I am excited about the possibility and opportunity this position could bring and hope to have good news on that front soon!

Copper and I have also been walking our butts off! Although not so much today and yesterday. I'm not sure if it's allergies or if I'm getting a cold, but I've felt a little sniffly and throat-scratchy, so I'm trying to drink more water and hot tea  and dial it back a little on the long walks. So far this month, we've walked roughly 92 miles (give or take a few)! Even with scaling back our walks a little, we will still hit 100 miles walked before the end of the month. I've noticed some tightness in my hips lately (from all the walking I presume), so I've been trying to open them and stretch them more in my yoga practice.

Copper went to the vet last week and weighs a whopping 68 pounds, and it's all muscle! Unfortunately, we found out she had two infections in both of her ears. Thankfully, just since Friday, with the medicine and cleaning solution her vet gave us, her ears seem to be clearing up, although one ear was definitely worse than the other.
My poor baby!
We've been out and about, trying new things lately. I went to the Dallas Art Museum last week with a friend from my yoga studio:

Number 3, 1949: Tiger by Jackson Pollock
I also tried sushi for the first time!!!

It was pretty good.
We've finally started cooking at home again for the majority of our meals. (We cave and eat out a couple times a week right now, but we need to reign that in if we're going to be healthier and pay off some debt!!) I'm trying to get us to eat healthier overall and rather than cutting out gluten and dairy, I'm buying whole grains and organic (or less-processed) dairy products to see how it goes. It's a little more expensive, but so far, I've been feeling okay!

Whole grain penne pasta with chicken sausage, whole roasted cauliflower, caesar salad and garlic bread. Chris is even eating more than one helping of salad!!

Penne pasta reimagined for a leftover lunch!

This was last night's dinner and it was delicious! Slow cooker creole chicken with andouille chicken sausage over brown rice. 

In addition to trying to eat healthier, one of my goals for this year (not listed here!), is to try to lead a more sustainable lifestyle. More simply, I want to start reducing some of our waste (and lower our budget!). In the past, I've made small changes, such as switching from Dixie cups in the bathroom to small Tupperware cups (I have about 4 that I rotate). I want to start making more changes like that in other areas. Currently, I use makeup remover wipes to take off my makeup at the end of the day (although, since I'm not currently working, I've been going natural--saving money on the wipes and the makeup!), but I'd like to switch to something less disposable. I've seen DIY makeup remover with Johnson & Johnson's baby shampoo (I think it's shampoo? I don't really remember), but I'm not crazy about buying that and using it on my face (and thus having another bottle to throw out).

I also brought up the topic with Chris of switching to using cloth napkins rather than paper towels. We're only a family of 2, so we don't go through a ton of paper towels, so this isn't so much a money-saving thing as it is more of an environmental thing. I want to reduce the amount of waste we're putting out into the world. Chris was pretty adamant that we keep the paper towels (mainly because it's not a huge extra cost for us), but I might get some just for me to use. 

I'm also looking into alternatives to the Swiffer (dry) cloths. I still have some, so I will use those up first, but I did try a microfiber cloth yesterday, and it seemed to trap as much hair and dust and dirt as the Swiffer cloths do (if not more!). I'm not sure what, if anything, I can use on the Swiffer Wet Jet, but I haven't even mopped our apartment yet (don't judge me!), so I'm not too concerned about that at the moment.

Are you trying to reduce your carbon footprint (or save money!)? If so, what steps have you taken to do so? Any tips for makeup remover, cloth napkins, or Swiffer cloths? Let me know!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Only Planner You Will Ever Need

I'm talking about the Passion Planner. It is a beautiful, well-made, planner that keeps me organized, and helps me achieve my goals.

First, let me explain why using a paper planner works for me. The primary reason: I remember things better when I write them down. Another reason is that it's fun to look back and see how you spent your time over the previous year. It's a good tool for evaluating changes you need to make to spend your time better the next year. It's sort of like a journal for me (I have to have a planner with blank note pages in the back for all my poem/story ideas, cool quotes from books/movies/songs/etc.).

The Passion Planner is all of these things and more. And the Passion Planner's focus is to help you achieve your goals.

Last year, I used my Passion Planner to plan my wedding. It was perfect for wedding planning because it has monthly and weekly to-do sections. So I could go through the planner and for each month, write down the wedding-related tasks/projects/errands I needed to accomplish. Then, I broke those up over the weeks within that month. Planning this way helped me feel [a little] less overwhelmed because instead of looking at a to-do list a mile long and not knowing where to start, I only had a few tasks to accomplish within a month and just a couple each week. I wasn't looking at a list that included things that needed to happen first (like "Pick Venues") right along with things that needed to happen last (like "Get Marriage License"). It made the long, long list of things to do much less daunting.

I've tried color-coding things to make it pretty, but carrying around 10 colored pens in my purse is just not practical. So this year I'm sticking with 3 (at least for now): Black for pretty much everything, Red for upcoming bills, and Green for paydays. In addition to wedding planning, I used this planner last year to keep track of each one of our bills, what date it was due, and how much was owed. I'm doing that again this year, but since my main goal is actually paying off debt this year, I'm also probably going to list all our debts on a page in the back and cross them off as we pay them off. 

Another reason I love this planner is that it has To-Do lists (my fave, seriously), and they are divided between Personal and Work, which makes this great for keeping track of personal and work tasks all in one place. I've had separate to-do lists before and it just gets confusing and I forget things. Having everything I need to get done listed in one place ensures that I will actually get things done. 

In addition to monthly layouts (which I don't use a ton), there are weekly layouts with each day broken down into half-hour increments from 6am to 10:30pm, so you can write in anything you have scheduled or anything you want to get done at a certain time. If you schedule it, you're more likely to get it done. The Passion Planner also has a weekly and daily focus section where you can put your most important priorities for the day/week. Mine usually revolve around exercise or eating healthier, but my focus this week is to open our bank accounts (checking and savings) with a new bank and to continue my job search.

Passion Planner also includes a lot of space for reflection. For each week, there is a "Good Things That Happened" section, so you can write down (and look back on) any good things that happened. I love this section because it reminds me to focus on the good things and to find things to be thankful for. There's always at least one thing I can write down even if I've had a really bad week! So far this week under my "Good Things That Happened" section, I have Farmer's Market and Katy Trail (two places I've visited and loved so far this week). 

At the end of each month, there is a Monthly Reflection. It asks questions such as "What was the most memorable part of the past month? Describe it" and "Review your planner for the past month and assess your priorities: Are you happy with how you spent your time? If not, what steps can you take this next month to adjust them?" It's a great time to look back on the past month and really evaluate whether you made progress toward your goal and if not, you can focus on what steps you need to take to make progress next month. 

My Passion Planner has everything I need to achieve my goals this year and I highly recommend it to anyone who is trying to achieve a goal or goals this year (or is planning a wedding!). 

Do you use a paper planner or an e-calendar? Which do you prefer?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Self Care

My legs/feet/ankles have been very sore the past few days. I think all the walking I've been doing, plus yoga every day is starting to catch up with me. So rather than push myself to the point of injury, I'm taking a rest day.

Instead of taking Copper on a 2+ mile walk this morning, we just did 1.5, and will probably do the same later this afternoon. And instead of doing the two yoga classes I planned on doing today, I'm not doing either of them. Instead I'm going to stay home, get some laundry done, and rest.

Just to give you a real idea of how much walking I've done since we moved to Dallas back in December:

In the month of December, I walked roughly 62 miles (which is a number from my RunKeeper app, that isn't always accurate, so it's probably more than that).

So far in January, I have walked 44 miles (and January isn't even half-way over!).

While I've always been fairly active, I've never walked this much in my life. To put things into perspective, I only walked roughly 5 miles for the entire month of November, and about 10 in October. Also, as an FYI, RunKeeper's background "pocket track" only tracks walks that last 15 minutes or more. So these numbers are only walks that I physically tracked myself with the app, or ones that lasted more than 15 minutes. This doesn't include every step I took like walking to and from my car or something like that.

On top of being physically sore, I'm pretty exhausted. I'm still not sleeping great and we only just started cooking [most] of our meals at home last week. So up until now, we were pretty much eating out at restaurants/fast food which has had a toll on me as well.

In addition to being physically sore and exhausted, we've been dealing with a lot of stress with bills and other issues. We've unfortunately been back and forth with whether we wanted to rent or sell our house back in St. Louis. After talking with a management company and looking over the agreement she sent us, we decided being landlords, even with a management company taking care of most things, isn't something we're really up for--mentally or financially. So we are putting our house up for sale.

I'm a little sad about it. It was our first house and we worked really hard to be able to buy it. After owning a home though, I'm not sure it's something I want to do again. At least not for a long time. I know people say renting is just "throwing money away". But if you genuinely don't want to be a homeowner--don't want all of the maintenance and repairs (and costs) that come with it, renting isn't really throwing your money away. And I'm really enjoying living in our little apartment in the city. City life seems to suit us well. And Copper seems to like it too.

So we will soon be listing our house and hoping it sells (and that we don't lose any money on it). Any good thoughts, prayers, etc. you can send our way would be much appreciated. And if you know anyone who is interested in buying a house in the Florissant area, let me know. Once it's listed online, I can post the link.

I hope you all are having a good week, and remember to take care of yourselves!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Goals for 2016

I know I'm a little late getting to these, but here they are (in no particular order).

My primary goal is to live a healthier lifestyle overall. To focus on self-care, both mentally and physically.

  • Eat healthy. Most of the time. It's okay to splurge now and then. I really want to find a good balance for myself as far as food goes. I think a lot of my IBS symptoms are more stress-related than food-related. So I think if I just continue to eat a healthy diet (including higher-quality grains and dairy) and manage my stress better, my IBS symptoms might be reduced.
  • Be active. I want to continue with the [more] active lifestyle I've had since we moved to Dallas. I'm walking 20+ miles each week (which may go down a bit once I get a job). I'm doing yoga several times a week (almost every day, which again, will probably change once I get a job). I haven't started running down here yet. I want to be a little more familiar with the area before I start that. Overall, I just want to spend less time sitting inside on the couch watching TV. I want to get out and explore (and living in a new city certainly helps!).
  • Read more. My goal this year--again--is to read 25 books. I only read about 13 books in 2015, so I hope that if I don't make it to 25, I at least read more than 13. Less TV/movies/Netflix-bingeing. I want to try to read at least a half hour each night before bed to help myself unwind and hopefully sleep better. 
  • Unplug more often. Especially during meal times with Chris, family, or friends. But also at least a half hour before bed (no TV, no phone, no computer) to help myself unwind from the day and sleep better. 
  • Be present. This goes along with unplugging--putting the phone away at meal times and giving Chris or anyone else I am with my full attention.
  • Drink more water and herbal tea. Less beer, wine, and other alcohol. To go with my book before bed, I plan to drink a cup of hot tea (at least while it's cold out--might switch to infused water in the summer). With our move and the holidays, we've done a lot more drinking, and we love trying new, local beers so this will be challenging.
  • Be kinder to myself and others. I am my own worst critic. I put myself down more than anyone else and punish myself far too often. It's time for me to change that. Through yoga, I'm learning to honor my body--both on and off the mat. It's a constant work in progress, but I have made some great improvements over the last year and hope to continue that. I also want to work on being kinder to those around me. To Chris, especially. But also to family, friends, and strangers. I can have a short temper (although yoga is helping me with that, too!), and I'm trying to think and breathe through my immediate emotions. I'm trying to put myself in the other person's shoes. Maybe that person cut me off because they're having a rough Monday and are late for work. Maybe the checker at the grocery store just got yelled at by another customer so they aren't feeling too friendly. I'm want to be kind to those who aren't kind to me, because they probably need it most. 
  • Have better relationships. I want to make a point to keep in touch with my family and friends on a regular basis, which is especially important now that I'm living out of state and most of my family and friends live in St. Louis. I want all my family and friends to know how important they are to me and to let them know by calling and texting them--not just liking their Facebook posts. I also want to be able to let go of relationships that are no longer healthy or just aren't there at all. I had a "friend" who I regularly called and texted to try to keep in touch, see how she's doing and let her know how I'm doing. But she almost always ignores my messages. So I'm going to let that one go. Friendship is a two-way street and I'd rather put my energy into other friendships.
  • Budget, reduce debt, and increase savings. This is something Chris and I will be working on together, but it definitely falls under "self-care" since having less debt = less stress (for me anyway). Chris and I both have student loans, car loans, and credit card debt, though thankfully not a ton of credit card debt. I will probably do some separate posts on our plans for reducing our debt and budgeting in case anyone wants to follow along. (If you're looking for a blog on budgeting and reducing debt, my friend Elise has a great one--her and her husband have made a serious dent in their debt and were my inspiration for wanting to tackle our own debt!)
  • Write more. With the wedding, moving to Dallas, and the holidays, I haven't had a lot of time to write. I am working on a book though, and want to make some real progress with that this year. I also want to continue writing poetry. Plus, writing more will allow me to have [long-distance] workshops with one of my good friends, which helps with the better relationships goals too. Ideally, I'd like to get something published this year. So I might make a secondary goal to this one to submit to one literary magazine per month in an attempt to get published. 
  • Find a job I love. I've been unemployed (again) for a little under a month. Thankfully, with Chris's job promotion, it isn't imperative that I find a job--any job--right away. Having a job will certainly make budgeting, paying off our debts, and saving easier, though. But my goal here is to take my time and find a job that I truly love. I do have one opportunity on my radar and I'm hoping to get an interview set up for that within the next week or so (I'll let you all know how it goes!). If that doesn't work out, then I will keep looking because I want to find the right job for me. I don't want to just settle on something to say that I have a job. I've had to do that in the past and it made me horribly stressed.
Those are my goals, although I'm sure I think of more to add to this later! What are your goals for 2016? 

Monday, January 4, 2016

A Look Back on 2015 and Ringing in the New Year

We ended 2015 in our Dallas apartment--Chris was asleep on the couch and Copper was asleep on the floor. Thankfully, Chris woke up at midnight to give me a kiss so I didn't have to kiss the dog! ;)

This past year certainly had its ups and downs. I got promoted to Copywriter in April and was feeling on top of the world. Then I was laid off in June. I was terribly sick (the sickest I think I've been in a long time, and on the verge of going to the ER several times), and worried about what I would do about health insurance, money, etc. Chris and I talked about just going to the courthouse (several times) to get married so we could both get on insurance through his work, but that turned out to be too expensive. I was angry that I was so close to my wedding and was unemployed. I was angry that I had to consider getting married early just to get health insurance. How romantic. I was angry that my doctor couldn't seem to figure out why I was so sick and eventually just told me to go to the ER (which I could no longer afford).

I was angry about a lot of things. And stressed about a lot of things in 2015 (unemployment and a wedding will do that). Yoga helped. I think my mom and I started going to yoga together in February. Yoga has taught me a lot in the past year. It has taught me how to breathe properly and keep breathing (which has helped my asthma). It has helped me let go of stress and anger (at least for the hour I'm on the mat) and it has helped me focus on my mental and physical health.

Thankfully, I was only unemployed for a couple weeks before I found a job as a teller. Not my dream job, but it showed me what it can be like to work in a happy work environment, which everyone deserves. After working over a year in an extremely toxic and unhappy work environment, this was a much-needed and refreshing change. I wasn't doing what I really wanted to be doing, and I wasn't making much money, but I loved everyone I worked with at the bank. For the first time in a long time, I had coworkers that I didn't mind spending time with outside of work. I enjoyed hearing about their personal lives and telling them about mine. I'm so happy I had the opportunity to work there for the short time that I did. I met some wonderful people and made some wonderful friends.

Just a few of my wonderful coworkers and the wedding gift they gave me! 

2015 was filled with lots of wedding planning and activities: showers, bachelorette party, cneterpiece-making. Planning the wedding itself was stressful and not super fun. But I got to spend that time with family and friends which made it a little less sucky. And in the end, we had a beautiful day and a beautiful wedding, and afterward we went on an incredible, week-long, stress-free honeymoon. That was probably the best week of my life so far, and for sure the best in 2015.

Well this night turned into a hot mess, but it was fun! :)
We got married! And we totally nailed recreating this Pinterest picture! ;)
Best week ever. Best views ever. Best company ever. <3
We got to relax for a while once all the thank-you cards were sent, but not for long because by December we were packing up our house to move to Dallas. We've been here for three weeks now and it's been a little crazy and stressful with the holidays. Now that the holidays are over, I'm hoping we can start getting into a normal routine (and start cooking dinner at home more nights a week than we eat out!).

We are not good at taking family selfies. 
Chris's parents came down to celebrate his birthday with us and drove my car down which we had left in St. Louis. The drive down took them a little longer because of the flooding, but they made it and we had a great time while they were here. We went out to dinner with them once they got here to a place called Village Burger Bar. Chris and I had been wanting to try it and we ended up really enjoying it. They had turkey burgers (yay for me!) and truffle fries, both of which were delicious. Aside from when I tried to squeeze a lime into my water and it squirted everywhere (including at/on Chris's parents), I'd say it was a good time.

For Chris's birthday (New Year's Eve), we attempted to get breakfast at Einstein's Bagels, but they were out of bagels! I thought it was crazy that a bagel place ran out of bagels during breakfast time. So we went and got breakfast tacos instead, which we had also been wanting to try. I didn't really have a "breakfast taco"...I had a chicken taco with no traces of anything breakfast on it (i.e. eggs, cheese, potatoes, etc.), but it was delicious.

After breakfast we came back to our apartment so Chris could open his birthday present from his parents: a Cardinals hoodie and a Cardinals quarter-zip pullover. Our next stop was bowling. We went to this cool bowling alley a few miles away called Bowlounge. It was kind of retro and they had a ton of craft beer. I tried a beer called Blood & Honey and felt like a total badass.

Bowling for Chris's birthday! He's much better than me. :(
I was doing okay during our first game and had been in first place up until the end when Chris and his dad both pulled in front of me leaving me in third place. After that, I pretty much sucked. I think Chris's dad won the first game and Chris won the second. We tried to play a third game, but our balls kept getting stuck in the ball return and although they offered to move us to a different lane, we decided to move on to our next stop: Twin Peaks.

Apparently Twin Peaks is generally just a restaurant similar to Tilted Kilt or Hooters. But the location we went to in Dallas is where it originated, and the owner likes smoking cigars, so that one location has a cigar lounge. Naturally, we went there for Chris to smoke a birthday cigar and to get some food. The food was decent and Chris enjoyed his cigar, so I'm sure we'll end up back there again soon.

We didn't "kick back", but we enjoyed it! 
A little later in the evening we went to dinner at 18th & Vine, a barbecue restaurant near our house (another that was on our list of places to try). Unfortunately, we all wanted fries with our BBQ and they were out. But it forced us to try other things--I got mashed potatoes, Chris got beans, his dad had some sort of mushrooms. We got fried okra as an appetizer and it was delicious. The service and our main courses weren't that great though (especially not for the prices). I liked my chicken well enough (and it was one of the cheapest things on the menu), but I think I was the only one who enjoyed my food.

We left dinner a little disappointed and headed home. We watched one of the bowl games on TV until we took Chris's parents back to their hotel around 10. Chris fell asleep on the couch, Copper fell asleep on the floor, and I watched all the NYE festivities on TV by myself. We went to bed shortly after midnight and even though I was exhausted from such a busy day, I barely slept. I've had quite a few sleepless nights since we got to Dallas. I'm not sure what I need to do to sleep better. I've tried ear plugs (because our bedroom window is above the parking lot so it's noisy and there are constant air planes overhead), but those were uncomfortable and didn't really work. I think I may try a sleep mask next and maybe some sort of music or white noise and see if that helps. I'm also going to try to read and have a cup of hot tea every night before bed and see if that helps as well (that's part of my new year's resolutions which I'll do a separate post on later).

On New Year's Day, we went to the Original Pancake House for breakfast. I was so excited about this because Chris and I used to go to the one in St. Louis and it was amazing. They had a large selection of gluten-free options and the food was always delicious. We were pretty shocked by how different this location was. Their menu in general was much smaller, but they only had one option for gluten free pancakes. I decided to go with regular pancakes instead, but when we got our food, they were burned and not at all fluffy and beautiful and delicious like the ones at the St. Louis location. The portions in general were much smaller than the St. Louis one as well and we had terrible service. I was so disappointed by the experience. There are other area locations, so we might try a different one just to give it one more shot, but if it's as bad as this one was, then we will only go when we're in St. Louis.

After breakfast we hit the road to drive up to Oklahoma to go to the Choctaw Casino. It was an hour and a half drive to get there, but since we couldn't continue our New Year's Day tradition of going to Fast Eddie's, we had to at least go to a casino. It was the biggest casino I've ever been to, and it actually has two casinos in it. Chris and I won $250! He was pretty bummed we didn't win enough to buy a new TV (which I don't think we need), but I'm sure we'll find some other fun ways to spend it. Going to the casino made for a pretty long day because of the drive, but I think we all had a good time. We hung out at the apartment for a while before heading back out to get a late dinner at Tacos y Mas, which is pretty much our favorite taco place.

Chris's parents flew back to St. Louis this morning. It was so nice to have them here for Chris's birthday (and even nicer of them to drive my car down for us) and we're already talking about future trips :)

I hope you all had a fun and safe New Year's. Thank you to everyone who helped me survive 2015, but especially Chris. He has hugged me while I cried about money and insurance, took care of me when I was sick, and managed to make me smile and laugh through my tears. I don't know what I'd do without him. Here's to another wonderful year!

<3 <3 <3

Family picture courtesy of Chris's mom!